Natalie Coughlin: Professional swimmer, amateur gorilla-watcher

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Fresh off her history-making performance in London that saw her tie Dara Torres’ and Jenny Thompson’s all-time Olympic medals total of 12 (the most for a U.S. female), Natalie Coughlin wants to keep swimming at age 30.

We caught up with Coughlin and talked about working out, her recent trip to Africa – where she proudly wore her Oakland Raiders hat in the jungle – and a whole lot more. Here’s a condensed version of our conversation:

How much swimming and training are you doing?
I’ve been lifting, running and swimming. I haven’t formally started training with the team yet, but I have been working out on my own. I’m swimming five days a week … not over 5,000 [meters a day].

When will you start competing again?
I have no idea. I’m still trying to figure out my meet schedule. But I’ll definitely be at Santa Clara [Grand Prix in early June] and World Championships Trials [in late June].

You do a lot of running. Ever think of going the Brendan Hansen route and doing triathlons?
The whole cycling thing freaks me out. Being on the road with cars … when I’m in my own car I don’t trust other drivers. If there were run-swims, I would do those.
Editor’s note: Natalie, try an aquathlon.

Did it really take you 45 hours to travel to Rwanda for your recent trip with Right to Play?
We ended up having mechanical issues in Chicago that ruined the rest of our flight. We flew from San Francisco to Chicago, then Chicago to Brussels. And originally we were supposed to fly from Brussels to Kigali [Rwanda] but because we missed that connection, and that connection only happens twice a week, we couldn’t get a flight. So we ended up having this 10-hour layover in Brussels, and then we flew Brussels to Paris, Paris to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and then Entebbe, Uganda to Rwanda.

We missed the first day of only a five-day trip. The day we landed, two hours later we had a press conference. Whenever I wasn’t speaking I was dozing off in front of all these reporters. I was at the point of absolute exhaustion.

Tell us about the gorillas you saw in Rwanda.
I will admit, there were times when I accepted that I might get completely mauled by gorillas. [laughs] A toddler gorilla kicked me and ran off. The alpha silverback came to me and brushed up against me. I was trying to look at the ground, look anywhere but in his eyes.

What else stood out during the trip?
I had my big camera and I’m taking all these photos of the kids. Everywhere we went, they were so excited to see us. They were signing and dancing and including us in all the Right to Play games. The kids … would ask me to take pictures of them so they could see their photos. It was because they don’t have mirrors; they don’t know what they look like.

If you retired tomorrow, would you be satisfied?
I don’t think I can ever be satisfied with my career, but I’m extremely proud of it. I’m proud of what I’ve done. But half the reason that I’m continuing is that I still have goals for myself. That being said, if this all gets taken away from me somehow I will continually be proud of it and I’ll be OK with moving on. I love doing this, so why not?

Right to Play is an international organization dedicated to using sport and play to empower children and youth to overcome the effects of poverty, conflict, and disease in disadvantaged communities. Read more at righttoplay.com.

Simone Manuel upsets world-record holder again for gold (video)

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Simone Manuel pulled off another upset for gold.

The Olympic 100m free co-gold medalist won the world 100m freestyle title by stunning world-record holder Sarah Sjöström in an American record 52.27 seconds in Budapest on Friday.

The Swede Sjöström took silver in 52.31, followed by Denmark’s Pernille Blume in 52.69. American Mallory Comerford was fourth.

Sjöström was a heavy favorite going into the final, given she clocked 51.71 leading off the 4x100m free relay Sunday, taking .35 off the world record. Sjöström was .08 faster than her world-record pace at the 50-meter mark, but Manuel passed her in the last 10 meters and lowered her personal best by .42.

One year ago, Manuel and Canadian Penny Oleksiak were surprise Rio 100m free co-champions, topping then-world-record holder Cate Campbell of Australia. Campbell skipped worlds.

Manuel became the first U.S. woman to win the world 100m free title since Jenny Thompson in 1998.

She also took back the American record from Comerford, the 19-year-old who lowered it leading off the 4x100m free relay Sunday.

Women’s 100m Freestyle Results
Gold: Simone Manuel (USA) — 52.27
Silver: Sarah Sjöström (SWE) — 52.31
Bronze: Pernille Blume (DEN) — 52.69
4. Mallory Comerford (USA) — 52.77
5. Ranomi Kromowidjojo (NED) — 52.78
6. Penny Oleksiak (CAN) — 52.94
7. Bronte Campbell (AUS) — 53.18
8. Emma McKeon (AUS) — 53.21

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Yulia Efimova beats Lilly King at worlds; Simone Manuel pulls upset

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Yulia Efimova and Lilly King are even with one round to go.

The Russian took the latest episode of the Cold War swim rivalry, winning her trademark 200m breaststroke at the world championships in Budapest on Friday.

Earlier, American Simone Manuel won the 100m free in an upset, but Efimova was the clear favorite in the 200m breast. The Russian entered worlds with the top time in the world this year by two seconds.

Efimova passed King, four lanes to her right, with less than 100 meters to go and clocked 2:19.64. American Bethany Galat earned silver. King was fourth.

In four career head-to-head events in Rio and Budapest, King won both 100m breast duels, while Efimova finished higher in both 200m breast events.

King and Efimova are both entered in the 50m breast, with the final on Sunday and King the favorite. The 50m breast is not contested at the Olympics.

The women’s 100m free was much closer than the 200m breast on Friday. Manuel stunned world-record holder Sarah Sjöström in an American record 52.27 seconds.

The Swede Sjöström took silver in 52.31, followed by Denmark’s Pernille Blume in 52.69. American Mallory Comerford was fourth.

Sjöström was a heavy favorite going into the final, given she clocked 51.71 leading off the 4x100m free relay Sunday, taking .35 off the world record. Sjöström was .08 faster than her world-record pace at the 50-meter mark, but Manuel passed her in the last 10 meters.

One year ago, Manuel and Canadian Penny Oleksiak were surprise Olympic 100m free co-champions, topping then-world-record holder Cate Campbell of Australia. Campbell skipped worlds.

Manuel became the first U.S. woman to win the world 100m free title since Jenny Thompson in 1998.

The U.S. also grabbed silver and bronze medals in the men’s 200m backstroke.

Russian Yevgeny Rylov won in 1:53.61, with Olympic champion Ryan Murphy nearly chasing him down in the last 50 meters. Murphy ended up six tenths back, followed by countryman Jacob Pebley.

In semifinals, Caeleb Dressel broke the American record in the 50m freestyle to lead the qualifiers into Saturday’s final.

Australian Emily Seebohm was the fastest qualifier into the women’s 200m back final Saturday. Seebohm, the 2015 World champion, is joined by 100m back world-record holder Kylie Masse and silver medalist Kathleen Baker, plus Hungarian superstar Katinka Hosszu and 15-year-old American Regan Smith.

Women’s 100m Freestyle Results
Gold: Simone Manuel (USA) — 52.27
Silver: Sarah Sjöström (SWE) — 52.31
Bronze: Pernille Blume (DEN) — 52.69
4. Mallory Comerford (USA) — 52.77
5. Ranomi Kromowidjojo (NED) — 52.78
6. Penny Oleksiak (CAN) — 52.94
7. Bronte Campbell (AUS) — 53.18
8. Emma McKeon (AUS) — 53.21

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